This post is about the “Zero Aggression Principle” that many libertarians use as a litmus test. Many believe that it is ALWAYS wrong to initiate force against another. From the linked page:

“A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim.” 

I think that it must be nice to live in such a simple world. The first problem that I have with this idea is how you choose to define “force.” What if a person is shitting in your yard? Is he initiating force? Or would you be, if you physically remove him?

What about a petulant child the refuses to obey his parents? When the parents attempt to discipline the child, at what point is the discipline considered force? Confining him to a corner (timeout)? Spanking?

Then there is the case where a person is out of his mind. Can we, in good conscience, protect him from himself? For example, a drunk that is trying to sleep on railroad tracks. Are we initiating force when we remove him, even if he protests?

This is a problem that paramedics and other EMS workers have to face every day. I will give an example: A man that has been drinking is driving his motorcycle without a helmet. He lays it down, and slides under the back wheels of an automobile. There is a large area of skin missing from his forehead, and a large lump on the top of his head. He is staggering, and there is a large flap of loose flesh hanging torn from his arm. He is adamantly refusing a trip to the hospital. Is it initiating force to make him go? Yes. Is it wrong to force him? No.

You see a person who is drink is not capable of deciding for himself if he needs medical care. A person who has a head injury can be combative and adamant that he doesn’t want anyone touching him. In those cases, should we leave him there to die? If we do, the law says that his family can sue me.

In such a case, I would have no problem leaving a person there, if that is what the law requires. However, the law must also not hold the medical provider liable when the decision turns out to be a fatal one for the patient.

That is one of the basic flaws with that philosphy.

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Bob S. · January 28, 2013 at 2:48 pm


Great points. I'll add one — when an individual endangers not only himself but others.

A drunk wondering down the road could cause people to swerve off the road to miss him for example.

Alex · January 28, 2013 at 5:29 pm

I agree, great points and interesting post. Probably something most people don't think much about–at least those not affiliated with Emergency Medical Services.

And I was just thinking about what Bob said, too. What if you not "forcing" the drunk to the hospital allows him to stay on his own and eventually hurt someone else–either by accident or on purpose?

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